When Jan Willoughby looks back at her childhood in Victoria, she sees a little girl frozen with fear.
The first beating she remembers was at the age of three. It was inflicted by her mother, who repeatedly told her and her seven siblings they were good for nothing, she hated them and wished they were all dead.
Willoughby feared her mother would strangle her to death or her alcoholic father — who was in and out of her life — would shoot them all. Whenever her mother’s boyfriend pulled up to the home, Willoughby would run into the forest to hide from the sexual abuse he often brought with him.
“Many nights I spent overnight in the forest and the rain and the cold because I knew I couldn’t go into that place. He was always a threat,” said Willoughby. “The punishment in my home was instant and extremely cruel with beatings, vulgar screaming and words. When you are called stupid, ugly, good for nothing, you believe those things all of your life and underneath you always perceive yourself as not quite good enough.”
Willoughby left her abusive home when she turned 18, but she confronted her abusers two years earlier. Her mother responded by crossing her arms, stating “I can’t help it, I love him.”
The suicidal thoughts also began around age 18. Gripped by depression, those thoughts continued off and on for the next 10 years. Eventually, Willoughby decided she needed help and went to a psychologist to begin the long journey towards healing — a process that’s continued throughout her life.
Willoughby’s fear from her childhood lasted well into her adult years, but she still went on to achieve a career as a dental assistant and later owned several businesses with her husband, including a restaurant. She was also the recipient of the Order of British Columbia for her work within the community, but it took years before Willoughby could talk about her deep dark secret — the terrible abuse she sustained as a child.
Hoping to help others in crisis, Willoughby decided to share her horrific experience in a book, which she finished writing in 2014. The story was difficult and emotional to tell, but one she said was also very rewarding.
Now at the age of 73, Willoughby has released her first novel, The Gate. By telling her story, she hopes she can help others experiencing abuse rise above it, find a voice and follow their dreams.
“You are never alone. It means a great deal to know that this will help someone. I have a lot of scars, but I did conquer a lot through my journey with healing,” said Willoughby. “I love children and I want to be a voice for those who have lost theirs for a moment in time. I also want everyone to know that hope is eternal, no matter what you are going through.”
Willoughby launched her book on Wednesday at the Union Club. For more information visit janwilloughby.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.